UN chief calls for multilateralism, stresses need to reduce inequality and injustice

Monday, 2021-01-11 10:16:26
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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday called for a new type of multilateralism to address global challenges and stressed the need to reduce inequality and injustice.

In a virtual speech for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the first meeting of the UN General Assembly, Guterres noted that 97 percent of respondents to a UN-sponsored global survey called for improved global cooperation to find multilateral solutions to today's global challenges.

"While the need for international cooperation continues, we must expand our idea of what that means," he said.

"In our interconnected world, we need a networked multilateralism, so that global and regional organizations communicate and work together towards common goals. And we need an inclusive multilateralism, based on the equal representation of women, and taking in young people, civil society, business and technology, cities and regions, science and academia."

In his speech, Guterres lauded the General Assembly's achievements and lamented its failures.

"The General Assembly, where states have gathered for 75 years to debate the most important issues of our age, has seen many historic moments. And its daily work has played an enormous part in formulating and upholding laws on key global goods, from human rights and environmental protection to arms control and war crimes."

The work of the General Assembly has helped to boost global health, literacy, and living standards, and to promote human rights and gender equality, he said.

There has not been a Third World War. Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945 on the ashes of the Second World War, the world has enjoyed the longest period in recorded history without a military confrontation between major powers. That in itself is a great achievement, of which the United Nations and its member states can be rightly proud, he said.

"While we are proud of our collective achievements, we are also aware of our failures," he cautioned.

The global response to the climate emergency has been utterly inadequate. The past decade was the hottest in human history. Carbon dioxide levels are at record highs. Apocalyptic fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes are becoming the new normal. Biodiversity is collapsing, he said. "This is a war on nature -- and a war with no winners."

Meanwhile, conventional wars are growing more entrenched and difficult to resolve. Geopolitical tensions are escalating. The threat of nuclear proliferation and confrontation has returned. Inequality is growing. Hunger is on the rise, he noted.

Transformative technology has opened up vast new opportunities, but also new threats -- from cyberwarfare to rampant disinformation; from hate speech to political subversion and mass surveillance, he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the deep fragilities in the world. To tackle these fragilities, there is a need to reduce inequality and injustice, and to strengthen the bonds of mutual support and trust.

"At the international level, I have called for a new global deal. Power, resources and opportunities must be managed better and shared more equitably. Developing countries must have a proportionate role and more relevance in global institutions. At the national level, I have called for a new social contract between people, governments, the private sector, civil society and more, to tackle the roots of inequality with fair taxation on income and wealth, universal benefits, and opportunities for all."

Guterres emphasized the importance of quality education for all and of access to digital technology as powerful equalizers and enablers.

Investment in the recovery from COVID-19 must put economies and societies on stronger foundations: human rights and dignity; peaceful cooperation; respect for other species, for our planet and its boundaries, he added.

The pandemic is a human tragedy. But it can also be an opportunity. The blueprint already exists: the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, said Guterres. "We now need increased ambition and action to deliver -- beginning with the climate emergency."

The first meeting of the UN General Assembly was convened on Jan. 10, 1946, in London. Sunday's virtual event was organized by the British government.